The Artist

Xu Guan's painting

Xu Guan's painting

by Luke, University DTS student

Yesterday, a piece of artwork at a market caught my eye. I stopped at the artist's shop in the alley to admire it and talk to the artist, Xu Guan. Xu Guan spoke great English. In fact, he was even from the city we were planning to visit next. He told me about the inspiration for his art–his family and spirituality. We talked for a while and I told him I'd be back to purchase his print.

Today, my friend, Jerry, and I went back to find Xu Guan's alley-way art shop. I wanted to purchase the painting from him, but I also wanted to talk to him some more. What he said about his spirituality was intriguing. We have to be careful about the way we talk about God here–we're not free to evangelize here in the same way we would be in most other countries. But there's nothing stopping us from having a discussion, learning more about what they believe or telling them about our beliefs when they ask us.

“I'd like to know more about Xu Guan's family,” Jerry said as we walked. “And I think it's important that we ask him about his personal beliefs. I wonder if he already knows God?”

We wove our way through the twists and turns of the small, back alley streets. Fifteen minutes later, we opened up on an intersection at Xu Guan's shop.

“You came back!” Xu Guan cried, waving to us. A smile stretched across his face, ear to ear. He was holding his baby girl and  his other young daughter clung to his leg. Xu Guan's wife stepped outside, too. Jerry and I looked at each other and grinned, both thinking the same thing. What better way to get to know about his family than by having them all right there?

When I made it clear that I would purchase the painting, Xu Guan relaxed and chatted with us a little more. We talked about his daughters and his wife. Then he showed me more of his amazing paintings. He pointed out the symbolism and stories behind the art. The paintings were about so much more than what they first appeared.

At that moment, I felt so strongly that Jerry and I needed to pray with this artist, his family, and their business but that I should wait for the right timing. I examined a painting by a farmer friend of Xu Guan's. It was a picture of an annual Chinese celebration where the children send off lanterns for their deceased relatives, to pray for them and invite them to celebrate.

“Do you pray?” I asked Xu Guan.

He paused for a second so he could understand my question. “Do you mean, in church?” he asked.

“Yeah, sure.”

He told us that in his home city he used to go to a Catholic church and he would pray to God there. I was encouraged to hear this. I still wasn't sure what he truly believes or understands, but I knew this was an open opportunity for us to pray for his family and to show them that God cares about them. So I asked Xu Guan if it would be OK if we could pray with his family to bless them and their art business.

“Yes, yes!” He smiled.

After we prayed, Xu Guan and his wife continued saying, “Xie xie, xie xie” (thank you, thank you). Their children waved goodbye to us as we left. I carried the painting I bought from him and we walked back through the twists and turns of the alleys.

I can't wait to hang it on my wall back home. Not only is it a beautiful piece of art, but it will always remind me of Xu Guan and his family.